On any given day, there are nearly 397,000 American children in foster care, according to a report conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. That’s enough to fill Tiger Stadium four times.

Students and their families will laugh, chant and cheer at the top of their lungs on Saturday night and be heard for miles. But there are children living a nightmare inside the country’s foster care system who also need to be heard. 

Sometimes, the smallest voices need the biggest help, but they are seldom heard. This is the case with children living in America’s failing foster care system.

Colorado police are currently investigating the death of an 11-month-old girl who was allegedly  shaken to death by her foster mom on Sept. 17. The child’s biological father is pointing his finger at the woman and, rightfully so, the county’s human services department. 

Foster care is meant to be a protective service for children who have been removed from their home due to abuse, neglect or other dangerous circumstances.  It’s intended to be short-term. 

However, in the faulty system, children are separated from siblings, bounce back and forth between foster homes and often experience more suffering.

According to the national advocacy group Children’s Rights, many of America’s child welfare systems are badly broken — and children can suffer serious harm as a result. Too  many will be further abused in a system that is supposed to protect them. And instead of being safely reunited with their families, or moved quickly into adoptive homes, many will languish for years in foster homes or institutions. 

America’s foster care system does little to help build a safe and healthy home for children with their parents. Instead, children are uprooted from potentially salvageable families because of curable matters like a parent’s substance abuse and are dispersed to foster families. The biological parent is often not provided the resources  and help that they need to meet requirements to keep guardianship. Thus, another child joins the foster care statistics. 

Children can leave foster care for a permanent home only by being reunited with their birth parents if guardianship is regranted, placed with relatives or adopted. When the children can’t go back to their families, the system becomes responsible for placing them in permanent homes usually through adoption. 

Many people planning to start a family aren’t prepared or equipped to adopt and foster children stay in the system’s confines for years. The myths surrounding adoption and the social understanding of it hinders future family-builders from taking in a child and loving them as their own. The world is already overcrowded. Why keep reproducing when there are thousands of existing children that need to be loved and cared for? 

Sure, parenthood seems like it’s so far away right now, but so did high school graduation. I thought about and outlined my college experience years in advance. It was quite helpful having that time to weigh options and opinions. 

For students who wish to have a family some day, thinking ahead is a smart move. Researching and advocating for foster children is something you can do now.  

 The foster system is bad — really bad. Not all foster parents are, but the cracks in the system just seem to be getting larger, and  the children are falling through them. And just like with any other program the

government runs, change comes at a snail-like pace. 

So, instead of letting children, whether they’re 8 months old or 15 years old, risk experiencing any of the possible horrors while in foster care, consider adopting.

I intend to adopt in the future to ensure that at least one, two, eight (Who knows where I’ll stop?) children are given a fair shot at life and a loving family to support them. I urge others to look into it, too.  

Justin Stafford is a 21-year-old mass communication senior from Walker, Louisiana. You can reach him on Twitter @j_w_stafford.

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